Aug. 21, 2013 at 7:45 AM ET
For Mark Barden, images of frightened schoolchildren and their frantic parents after an armed man entered an Atlanta-area elementary school on Tuesday particularly hit home.
Barden lost his son Daniel, 7, in the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012. Daniel was one of 20 children and six adult staffers fatally shot by Adam Lanza, who then committed suicide.
No one was injured on Tuesday, when police say 20-year-old suspect Michael Brandon Hill walked into the front office of Ronald E. McNair Discovering Learning Academy in the Atlanta area with an AK-47.
“It is frighteningly similar,’’ Barden told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Wednesday. “I just feel so deeply for those parents and those children that had to endure that horrific scenario, and we’re just so thankful that everybody emerged OK from that.”
After ordering a school employee to call a local television station, he fired multiple shots at police gathered outside the building before surrendering after authorities entered through a side door, police said. All the pupils at the elementary school, which has about 800 students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, have been accounted for.
“This is an epidemic,’’ Barden said. “It’s a huge problem here in our culture. We need to address a lot of different items holistically. People need to have better access to mental health care, firearm safety issues, legislative community outreach — we just need to look at our society as a whole and evolve from this point."
Hill was arrested in March for making a terroristic threat, according to police. After Tuesday’s incident, in which he allegedly shot at police, he was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, police said.
Though incidents with gunmen entering schools have continued to occur, Barden believes the aftermath of the Newtown shootings still brings light to issues that need to be addressed.
“I continue to speak to people and people are still very touched and very aware of what happened in Newtown,’’ he said. “Unfortunately there are situations that continue to happen, so I think people are aware of this epidemic. Organizations like Sandy Hook Promise (and) Americans for Responsible Solutions are doing some great work in all of those areas — mental health, community outreach, firearm safety, and responsible legislation.”